Lucia, a Brazilian woman whose name is fictitious, suffered a heartbreaking life story. After her mother died when she was a child, her father gave her to a family due to his inability to care for her. The worst was yet to come, however, as that family kept her in conditions of modern slavery for nearly three decades: unpaid, subjected to grueling workdays, living in precarious conditions, and virtually isolated. Finally, Brazilian authorities released her on Thursday from the house where she had lived under oppression for 27 years, ever since she arrived as a teenager.
Lucia, now 44 years old, joins the list of thousands of workers who are rescued every year in Brazil for living in slavery-like conditions, a consequence of structural racism rooted in the country for centuries.
This drama took place in Teresina, the capital of the impoverished state of Piau, in northeastern Brazil. The Labor Public Prosecutor’s Office received a complaint about the submission of a woman in a house and, in collaboration with the Federal Police, carried out a rescue operation.
The victim has kept her identity secret, but the prosecutors in charge of the case shared details of her suffering with the news site G1. The woman, originally from the northeastern state of Maranho, arrived there at the age of 14. After her mother’s death, her father donated her to a family, where she worked as a maid for three or four years. Subsequently, she was transferred to the house of the matron’s daughter-in-law, where she was subjected to these exploitative conditions. Prosecutors explained that this represents a reification of the worker since she was handed over as property from a mother-in-law to a daughter-in-law, from mother to son.
Lcia received no salary, enjoyed no holidays or rest days, and worked long, exhausting days. She was socially isolated, having lost contact with her family, and only went out to shop for the midwife or to attend church. In addition, she had not completed her basic education.
She slept in a precarious room with no furniture to store her belongings. Her possessions were in a box and a suitcase that she kept in the doghouse, and she rarely wore her clothes. It is hard to understand how anyone could live like that for so many years. According to prosecutors, not even Lcia, who arrived as a disadvantaged teenager, was aware that she was living in conditions analogous to slavery. In her mind, she believed that she was receiving a favor and that she should work to repay this supposed benevolence.
In short, Lcia was freed after living in conditions of modern slavery for almost three decades. Her story is a reflection of the persistent scourge of structural racism in Brazil and highlights the need to combat this exploitation and ensure the rights and dignity of all workers.